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Vietnam - Elections - 2016

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party re-elected party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to a second term as general secretary on 27 January 2016, likely putting an end to any attempt to reform the one-party state’s human rights abuses. The Central Committee vote came at the end of the five-year party congress and had been expected after reformist Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung withdrew. Trong, who was 71 and effectively the most powerful man in Vietnam, was the only candidate nominated. He was seen as a conservative and closer to China.

After his re-election, he said "Vietnam's Communist Party is one-party rule but we also have principles of democracy and accountability of the leaders. Otherwise the faults would be blamed on the entire group and merits would be credited to the individual ... The principle of the Communist Party of Vietnam is collective leadership with accountability and responsibility of the individual, which can never become authoritarian. Elsewhere in the world, there are examples where they say they follow democracy but decisions are made by one person... a country without discipline would be chaotic and unstable ... Democracy should go alongside discipline. There should be no imbalance. We should not go to either extreme. We need to balance between democracy and law and order."

By selecting Trong and a slate of hard-liners, the ruling Politburo signalled an unwillingness for the Communist Party to make any immediate shift toward a more representative and less repressive government. Trong will want to avoid going soft on China as most Vietnamese object to China’s island-building projects in disputed waters, and they resent China’s economic influence as they feel it smacked of Chinese imperial conquests.

In late January 2016, a new central committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) was elected with 200 members. Incumbent President Truong Tan Sang, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung, among others, were not elected to be members of the new party central committee.

During the 12th National Congress of the CPV in January 2016, the 12th CPV central committee's Politburo members, including Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang, Vice Chairwoman of National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, were nominated to run for the positions of the President, Chairwoman of National Assembly and Prime Minister, respectively.

At the second session of the 12th central committee of the CPV in early March, Vietnamese party chief Nguyen Phu Trong said the central committee reached high consensus that it is needed to soon replace and re-arrange key leadership positions in order to promptly implement the resolution of the 12th national party congress.

The 11th session of the 13th National Assembly (NA), the final session of the 13th NA, was held from March 21 to April 12, 2016. The country's legislative body spent 10 days considering and deciding personnel issues, as many incumbent key leadership positions had not been included in the party's central committee.

  • Vietnam's parliament on 31 March 2016 elected Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan as its chairwoman, making her the first woman to lead the Communist-dominated legislature. Ngan, 61, won 95.5 percent of the votes, the National Assembly said on its website. Ngan rose from director of the finance department in her home province of Ben Tre in the southern Mekong Delta to vice chairwoman of the assembly five years earlier. On 30 March 2016, the assembly voted to relieve chairman of the assembly Nguyen Sinh Hung of his duties.
  • The assembly voted on 31 March 2016 to end the term of President Truong Tan Sang, whose was replaced by Tran Dai Quang, the current public security minister, on 02 april 2016.
  • The legislature also relieved Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung of his duties and elected his deputy Nguyen Xuan Phuc to head the government.

The moves formally completed the election process that started with the Communist Party's Congress in January 2016.

Following Vietnamese legal regulations, the working tenure of President and Prime Minister were coincident with NA tenure. A general election was held in May 2016 to elect deputies for the 14th NA (2016-2021). At the first session of the 14th NA scheduled in July, deputies voted for the new leadership positions of the new tenure.

The 2016 National Assembly election allowed limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates but were neither free nor fair, and the government did not allow NGO monitoring. The CPV’s Fatherland Front chose and vetted all candidates through an opaque, multistage process. CPV candidates won 475 of the 496 seats. The remaining 21 were non-CPV candidates unaffiliated with any party. There were no candidates from a party other than the CPV. According to the government, 99 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 election, a figure activists and international observers considered improbably high. Voters may cast ballots by proxy, and officials charged local authorities with assuring that all eligible voters cast ballots by organizing group voting and verifying that all voters within their jurisdiction had voted. There were numerous reports throughout the country that election officials had stuffed ballot boxes to create the illusion of high turnout.

The law allows citizens to “self-nominate” as National Assembly candidates and submit applications for the VFF election vetting process. In the months leading up to the 2016 National Assembly elections, an informal coalition of legal reformers, academics, activists, and human rights defenders attempted to register as selfnominated, non-CPV “activist independent” candidates. In contrast to the party’s candidates, these candidates actively used Facebook and social media to advertise their policy platforms. VFF officials refused, however, to qualify any activist independent candidates, and authorities instructed official media to criticize some of them. According to press reports, the VFF allowed two self-nominated candidates on final ballots, but both individuals were party members. Political Parties and Political Participation: Political opposition movements and other political parties are illegal. Although the constitution states that “all Party organizations and members of the CPV operate within the framework of the constitution and the laws,” the CPV Politburo in fact functioned as the supreme national decision-making body, although technically it reported to the CPV Central Committee.

In August 2017, Vietnam's president said the country needed to pay greater attention to controlling "news sites and blogs with bad and dangerous content". Vietnam was one of the top 10 countries for Facebook users by numbers.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution 14 December 2017 condemning Vietnam’s authorities for jailing activist blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, detaining citizens who voice opinions critical of the government, and severely curtailing press freedom, drawing praise from rights groups and observers. In a statement following a vote on the resolution, the European Parliament said 22-year-old Hoa had “exercised his right to freedom of expression” when he disseminated content online about Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group’s April 2016 release of toxic chemicals from its massive steel plant located at the deep-water port in Ha Tinh province, and called on the government to free him.

The People’s Court of Ha Tinh sentenced Hoa, who was denied access to legal representation, to seven years in prison last month for “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code saying he had tried to incite protests over the government’s handling the spill, which devastated the livelihoods of residents of coastal Vietnam.

A court in Vietnam sentenced five people on 21 December 2017 to a total of 19 years in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code. The members of the group hung 26 flags emblazoned with three red stripes — the symbol of the Republic of Vietnam, also known as South Vietnam before 1975 — around the town of Chau Doc in southern Vietnam’s An Giang province on April 25. State media called the banners flags of a former “puppet government.” Those sentenced include Nguyen Tan An, 25, who was given five years in prison; Huynh Thi Kim Quyen, 38, sentenced to four years in prison; Nguyen Ngoc Qui, 25, sentenced to four years in prison; and Pham Van Trong, and Nguyen Thanh Binh, both 23, and both sentenced to three years in prison. All are residents of An Giang province. According to the trial panel of the province’s People’s Court, they received the lowest possible sentences under Article 88 because they pleaded guilty.

A court in Vietnam’s Ha Nam Province upheld a 9-year prison sentence for human rights activist Tran Thi Nga on 22 December 2017, rejecting her appeal of her conviction for spreading "propaganda against the State" in a hearing that sparked protests by activists who were then beaten by police. A human rights defender noted in Vietnam for her online activism, Nga, 40, was sentenced on 25 July 2017 to nine years in prison and five years’ under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code, a provision frequently used to silence dissident bloggers and other activists.

In December 2017 Vietnam unveiled a new, 10,000-strong military cyber warfare unit, named Force 47, to counter "wrong" views on the internet. The unit was already in operation in several sectors, Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted Lt Gen Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the military's political department, as saying at a conference of the Central Propaganda Department on Monday in the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. "In every hour, minute, and second we must be ready to fight proactively against the wrong views," the paper quoted the general as saying.

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